Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Oh, NOW Chuck Todd's Outraged.

Once again, there is all sorts of sound and fury concerning Hillary Rodham Clinton, e-mails, and the FBI. This piece is not going to be a direct discussion in any detail about the results of such investigation or the FBI's release of information (suffice it say, I read it all, and it appears to be yet another tempest in a teapot). Rather, I want to focus on the reaction of Chuck Todd, Ron Fournier, and, I'm sure, lots of other pundits and journos to a specific aspect of FBI procedure. It certainly has them in a dither. 

It seems that during the course of the investigation, the FBI interviewed Secretary Clinton. Messrs. Todd and Fournier, appearing on Meet the Press Daily, were outraged that there was no audio or video recording of that interview. Todd had this to say: "It bothers me as an American citizen. It's insane. We're relying on notes on this. The Trump campaign wants to show [Clinton] lied to the FBI. Maybe she did, maybe she didn't . We have no proof. And never will'. Really? No proof? Isn't that interesting. Let's unpack this shall we?

The FBI during the course of its work does lots of interviews. None of them are recorded. None. By any method--audio, video, stenographer, nada. The FBI agent takes notes, then prepares a report, commonly called a "302" (the number of the form). And that's it. The actual notes are usually destroyed shortly thereafter. So, let's imagine a situation where your client (or family member) is interviewed by the FBI. And then let's imagine that the FBI agent's 302 says your client confessed to a crime. But, your client insists that is not the case (Side note: what law-enforcement characterizes as a "confession" can be pretty damn creative). How do you combat that? Well, gosh, all you have to do is persuade a jury that your client is telling the truth and the FBI agent is lying. Sure. Easy as pie. Juries believe those charged with a crime over FBI agents all the time. You see where we're going here, right?

This has been going on since forever. Ask any criminal defense lawyer who has ever set foot in Federal court. There are thousands of people doing serious time based entirely on the testimony of FBI agents, with no recordings to verify. But, NOW, oh now, the Chuck Todds and Ron Fourniers of the world are outraged, outraged I tell you. Why, that's not proof, they bellow. They say they can't make up their mind whether Clinton lied to the FBI based just on the notes and the 302s (it seems the notes were preserved in this case, which, again, if more than you usually get). But I've never heard or read anything by either of them or the news organizations they work for expressing any outrage whatsoever when the same level of "proof" sends predominantly poor people of color to prison, sometimes for the rest of their lives. 

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